Writing a Critical Review
A critical review is not to be mistaken for the literature review. A 'critical review' is a complete type of text, discussing one particular article or book in detail. The 'literature review', which also needs to be 'critical', is a part of a larger type of text e.g. a chapter of your dissertation.
Most importantly: Read your article / book as many times as possible, as this will make the critical review much easier.
1. Read and take notes
2. Organising your writing
5. Linguistic features of a critical review
6. Summary language
7. Evaluation language
8. Conclusion language
9. Example extracts from a critical review
10. Further resources
Read and Take Notes
To improve your reading confidence and efficiency, visit our pages on reading.
Further reading: Read Confidently
After you are familiar with the text, make notes on some of the following questions. Choose the questions which seem suitable:
- What kind of article is it (for example does it present data or does it present purely theoretical arguments)?
- What is the main area under discussion?
- What are the main findings?
- What are the stated limitations?
- Where does the author’s data and evidence come from? Are they appropriate / sufficient?
- What are the main issues raised by the author?
- What questions are raised?
- How well are these questions addressed?
- What are the major points/interpretations made by the author in terms of the issues raised?
- Is the text balanced? Is it fair / biased?
- Does the author contradict herself?
- How does all this relate to other literature on this topic?
- How does all this relate to your own experience, ideas and views?
- What else has this author written? Do these build / complement this text?
- (Optional) Has anyone else reviewed this article? What did they say? Do I agree with them?
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Organising your writing
You first need to summarise the text that you have read. One reason to summarise the text is that the reader may not have read the text.
In your summary, you will
- focus on points within the article that you think are interesting
- summarise the author(s) main ideas or argument
- explain how these ideas / argument have been constructed. (For example, is the author basing her arguments on data that they have collected? Are the main ideas / argument purely theoretical?)
In your summary you might answer the following questions:
Why is this topic important?
Where can this text be located? For example, does it address policy studies?
What other prominent authors also write about this?
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Evaluation is the most important part in a critical review.
Use the literature to support your views. You may also use your knowledge of conducting research, and your own experience. Evaluation can be explicit or implicit.
Explicit evaluation involves stating directly (explicitly) how you intend to evaluate the text.
e.g. "I will review this article by focusing on the following questions. First, I will examine the extent to which the authors contribute to current thought on Second Language Acquisition (SLA) pedagogy. After that, I will analyse whether the authors’ propositions are feasible within overseas SLA classrooms."
Implicit evaluation is less direct. The following section on Linguistic Features of Writing a Critical Review contains language that evaluates the text.
A difficult part of evaluation of a published text (and a professional author) is how to do this as a student. There is nothing wrong with making your position as a student explicit and incorporating it into your evaluation. Examples of how you might do this can be found in the section on Linguistic Features of Writing a Critical Review.
You need to remember to locate and analyse the author’s argument when you are writing your critical review. For example, you need to locate the authors’ view of classroom pedagogy as presented in the book / article and not present a critique of views of classroom pedagogy in general.
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Linguistic features of a critical review
The following examples come from published critical reviews. Some of them have been adapted for student use.
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- This article / book is divided into two / three parts. First...
- While the title might suggest...
- The tone appears to be...
- Title is the first / second volume in the series Title, edited by...The books / articles in this series address...
- The second / third claim is based on...
- The author challenges the notion that...
- The author tries to find a more middle ground / make more modest claims...
- The article / book begins with a short historical overview of...
- Numerous authors have recently suggested that...(see Author, Year; Author, Year). Author would also be once such author. With his / her argument that...
- To refer to title as a...is not to say that it is...
- This book / article is aimed at... This intended readership...
- The author’s book / article examines the...To do this, the author first...
- The author develops / suggests a theoretical / pedagogical model to…
- This book / article positions itself firmly within the field of...
- The author in a series of subtle arguments, indicates that he / she...
- The argument is therefore...
- The author asks "..."
- With a purely critical / postmodern take on...
- Topic, as the author points out, can be viewed as...
- In this recent contribution to the field of...this British author...
- As a leading author in the field of...
- This book / article nicely contributes to the field of...and complements other work by this author...
- The second / third part of...provides / questions / asks the reader...
- Title is intended to encourage students / researchers to...
- The approach taken by the author provides the opportunity to examine...in a qualitative / quantitative research framework that nicely complements...
- The author notes / claims that state support / a focus on pedagogy / the adoption of...remains vital if...
- According to Author (Year) teaching towards examinations is not as effective as it is in other areas of the curriculum. This is because, as Author (Year) claims that examinations have undue status within the curriculum.
- According to Author (Year)…is not as effective in some areas of the curriculum / syllabus as others. Therefore the author believes that this is a reason for some school’s…
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- This argument is not entirely convincing, as...furthermore it commodifies / rationalises the...
- Over the last five / ten years the view of...has increasingly been viewed as ‘complicated’ (see Author, Year; Author, Year).
- However, through trying to integrate...with...the author...
- There are difficulties with such a position.
- Inevitably, several crucial questions are left unanswered / glossed over by this insightful / timely / interesting / stimulating book / article. Why should...
- It might have been more relevant for the author to have written this book / article as...
- This article / book is not without disappointment from those who would view...as...
- This chosen framework enlightens / clouds...
- This analysis intends to be...but falls a little short as...
- The authors rightly conclude that if...
- A detailed, well-written and rigorous account of...
- As a Korean student I feel that this article / book very clearly illustrates...
- The beginning of...provides an informative overview into...
- The tables / figures do little to help / greatly help the reader...
- The reaction by scholars who take a...approach might not be so favourable (e.g. Author, Year).
- This explanation has a few weaknesses that other researchers have pointed out (see Author, Year; Author, Year). The first is...
- On the other hand, the author wisely suggests / proposes that...By combining these two dimensions...
- The author’s brief introduction to...may leave the intended reader confused as it fails to properly...
- Despite my inability to...I was greatly interested in...
- Even where this reader / I disagree(s), the author’s effort to...
- The author thus combines...with...to argue...which seems quite improbable for a number of reasons. First...
- Perhaps this aversion to...would explain the author’s reluctance to...
- As a second language student from ...I find it slightly ironic that such an anglo-centric view is...
- The reader is rewarded with...
- Less convincing is the broad-sweeping generalisation that...
- There is no denying the author’s subject knowledge nor his / her...
- The author’s prose is dense and littered with unnecessary jargon...
- The author’s critique of...might seem harsh but is well supported within the literature (see Author, Year; Author, Year; Author, Year). Aligning herself with the author, Author (Year) states that...
- As it stands, the central focus of Title is well / poorly supported by its empirical findings...
- Given the hesitation to generalise to...the limitation of...does not seem problematic...
- For instance, the term...is never properly defined and the reader left to guess as to whether...
- Furthermore, to label...as...inadvertently misguides...
- In addition, this research proves to be timely / especially significant to... as recent government policy / proposals has / have been enacted to...
- On this well researched / documented basis the author emphasises / proposes that...
- Nonetheless, other research / scholarship / data tend to counter / contradict this possible trend / assumption...(see Author, Year; Author, Year).
- Without entering into detail of the..., it should be stated that Title should be read by...others will see little value in...
- As experimental conditions were not used in the study the word ‘significant’ misleads the reader.
- The article / book becomes repetitious in its assertion that...
- The thread of the author’s argument becomes lost in an overuse of empirical data...
- Almost every argument presented in the final section is largely derivative, providing little to say about...
- She / he does not seem to take into consideration; however, that there are fundamental differences in the conditions of…
- As Author (Year) points out, however, it seems to be necessary to look at…
- This suggest that having low…does not necessarily indicate that…is ineffective.
- Therefore, the suggestion made by Author (Year)…is difficult to support.
- When considering all the data presented…it is not clear that the low scores of some students, indeed, reflects…
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- Overall this article / book is an analytical look at...which within the field of...is often overlooked.
- Despite its problems, Title offers valuable theoretical insights / interesting examples / a contribution to pedagogy and a starting point for students / researchers of...with an interest in...
- This detailed and rigorously argued...
- This first / second volume / book / article by...with an interest in...is highly informative...
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Example extracts from a critical review
If you have been told your writing is not critical enough, it probably means that your writing treats the knowledge claims as if they are true, well supported, and applicable in the context you are writing about. This may not always be the case.
Example extracts from a critical review
In these two examples, the extracts refer to the same section of text. In each example, the section that refers to a source has been highlighted in bold. The note below the example then explains how the writer has used the source material.
There is a strong positive effect on students, both educationally and emotionally, when the instructors try to learn to say students’ names without making pronunciation errors (Kiang, 2004).
Use of source material in example a:
This is a simple paraphrase with no critical comment. It looks like the writer agrees with Kiang. (This is not a good example for critical writing, as the writer has not made any critical comment).
Kiang (2004) gives various examples to support his claim that “the positive emotional and educational impact on students is clear” (p.210) when instructors try to pronounce students’ names in the correct way. He quotes one student, Nguyet, as saying that he “felt surprised and happy” (p.211) when the tutor said his name clearly. The emotional effect claimed by Kiang is illustrated in quotes such as these, although the educational impact is supported more indirectly through the chapter. Overall, he provides more examples of students being negatively affected by incorrect pronunciation, and it is difficult to find examples within the text of a positive educational impact as such.
Use of source material in example b:
The writer describes Kiang’s (2004) claim and the examples which he uses to try to support it. The writer then comments that the examples do not seem balanced and may not be enough to support the claims fully. This is a better example of writing which expresses criticality.
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You may also be interested in our page on criticality, which covers criticality in general, and includes more critical reading questions.
Further reading: Read and Write Critically
We recommend that you do not search for other university guidelines on critical reviews. This is because the expectations may be different at other institutions. Ask your tutor for more guidance or examples if you have further questions.
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Critique of a Research Article
The goal of this activity is to give you an opportunity to apply whatever you learned in this course in evaluating a research paper. Warning!!!!You might have done some article summaries or even critical evaluation of some resources. However, this activity is unique because you evaluate a research article from a methodology perspective.
For this assignment you briefly summarize and extensively evaluate the attached educational research article (If you cannot download the article please go to BeachBoard/Content/Articles to download the article).
This assignment should be done individually. In the summary section, you should write a brief (up to 500 words) summary of the article in your own words. Don’t use copy and paste try to rephrase. This will be a good practice for your final project’s literature review. In the critique section, you evaluate the article using the following grading criteria.
Grading criteria for research critique
In your summary, you should identify main elements of the research including
1. Research problem
2. Research goal
4. Research Questions
5. Research Method (briefly explain)
6. Sample (participants)
8. Tools (instruments, tests, surveys)
9. Main findings (brief summary of the results)
The critique part should be 2-3 pages (1000-2000 words) and include to the following sections. Your critique should be longer than your summary and you pay special attention to the design and procedure. Your grade on this assignment is based on your answer the following questions.
There is a long list of questions. You don’t have to address all questions. However, you should address highlighted questions. Some questions are relevant to this article some are not. I listed so many questions simply because I’d like you to learn what to look for in evaluating a research article.
The format of your paper should NOT be like a Q & A list. Instead, you should integrate your answers into an essay format similar to the given examples.
1. Is there a statement of the problem?
2. Is the problem “researchable”? That is, can it be investigated through the collection and analysis of data?
3. Is background information on the problem presented?
4. Is the educational significance of the problem discussed?
5. Does the problem statement indicate the variables of interest and the specific relationship between those variables which are investigated? When necessary, are variables directly or operationally defined?
Review of Related Literature
1. Is the review comprehensive?
2. Are all cited references relevant to the problem under investigation?
3. Are most of the sources primary, i.e., are there only a few or no secondary sources?
4. Have the references been critically analyzed and the results of various studies compared and contrasted, i.e., is the review more than a series of abstracts or annotations?
5. Does the review conclude with a brief summary of the literature and its implications for the problem investigated?
6. Do the implications discussed form an empirical or theoretical rationale for the hypotheses which follow?
1. Are specific questions to be answered listed or specific hypotheses to be tested stated?
2. Does each hypothesis state an expected relationship or difference?
3. If necessary, are variables directly or operationally defined?
4. Is each hypothesis testable?
1. Are the size and major characteristics of the population studied described?
2. If a sample was selected, is the method of selecting the sample clearly described?
3. Is the method of sample selection described one that is likely to result in a representative, unbiased sample?
4. Did the researcher avoid the use of volunteers?
5. Are the size and major characteristics of the sample described?
6. Does the sample size meet the suggested guideline for minimum sample size appropriate for the method of research represented?
1. Is the rationale given for the selection of the instruments (or measurements) used?
2. Is each instrument described in terms of purpose and content?
3. Are the instruments appropriate for measuring the intended variables?
4. Is evidence presented that indicates that each instrument is appropriate for the sample under study?
5. Is instrument validity discussed and coefficients given if appropriate?
6. Is reliability discussed in terms of type and size of reliability coefficients?
7. If appropriate, are subtest reliabilities given?
8. If an instrument was developed specifically for the study, are the procedures involved in its development and validation described?
9. If an instrument was developed specifically for the study, are administration, scoring or tabulating, and interpretation procedures fully described?
Design and Procedure
1. Is the design appropriate for answering the questions or testing the hypotheses of thestudy?
2. Are the procedures described in sufficient detail to permit them to be replicated by another researcher?
3. If a pilot study was conducted, are its execution and results described as well as its impact on the subsequent study?
4. Are the control procedures described?
5. Did the researcher discuss or account for any potentially confounding variables that he or she was unable to control for?
1. Are appropriate descriptive or inferential statistics presented?
2. Was the probability level, α, at which the results of the tests of significance were evaluated,
specified in advance of the data analyses?
3. If parametric tests were used, is there evidence that the researcher avoided violating the
required assumptions for parametric tests?
4. Are the tests of significance described appropriate, given the hypotheses and design of the
5. Was every hypothesis tested?
6. Are the tests of significance interpreted using the appropriate degrees of freedom?
7. Are the results clearly presented?
8. Are the tables and figures (if any) well organized and easy to understand?
9. Are the data in each table and figure described in the text?
Discussion (Conclusions and Recommendation)
1. Is each result discussed in terms of the original hypothesis to which it relates?
2. Is each result discussed in terms of its agreement or disagreement with previous results
obtained by other researchers in other studies?
3. Are generalizations consistent with the results?
4. Are the possible effects of uncontrolled variables on the results discussed?
5. Are theoretical and practical implications of the findings discussed?
6. Are recommendations for future action made?
7. Are the suggestions for future action based on practical significance or on statistical
significance only, i.e., has the author avoided confusing practical and statistical
8. Are recommendations for future research made?
Make sure that you cover the following questions in your critique even if you have already covered them in your crtique.
1. Is the research important? Why?
2. In your own words what methods and procedures were used? Evaluate the methods and procedures.
3. Evaluate the sampling method and the sample used in this study.
4. Describe the reliability and validity of all the instruments used.
5. What type of research is this? Explain.
6. How was the data analyzed?
7. What is (are) the major finding(s)? are these findings important?
8.What are your suggestions to improve this research?
Here is a hint on how to evaluate an article.
Use this resource for writing and APA style.
Examples (please note some examples are longer than what is expected for this article)
· Good example
· Poor example
· Original article
· Article critique